The development story of this country is filled with enigmas that many have failed to understand. It is true that a lot of things have changed for the better such as the process of registering a business and a lot of time is being done to polish the service delivery bit of things.
The development story is certainly incomplete if one does not mention the technological advances that have seen Rwanda described as a regional ICT hub. Programmes like the One Laptop Per Child, E-soko, smart cards for bus passengers as well the laying of necessary infrastructure like the undersea fibre optic cable and the national backbone, and the Karisimbi project have gone a long way in cementing Rwanda’s technology credentials.
Of late there has been talk about the dismal use of Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) by bank customers. Several banks have introduced ATMs but the response has been so depressing, a state of affair that bothers business analysts as well as bank officials. We still have long queues in banks, a situation that is not helped by the annoyingly slow tellers in almost all banks.
If you have been wondering why Rwandans have sophisticated phones and entertainment systems in their homes but are reluctant to use ATM cards, here are some of the reasons. I must point though that I entirely blame the banks for this situation.
The first problem is the cost of acquiring an ATM card. I recently opened an account with Bank of Kigali (BK) and was informed that getting an ATM card would cost me Rwf5000. This is a very backward approach considering that several banks long realised that it was smarter to offer the cards freely or at a very cheap cost. After all the cards are meant to cut the long queues in the banks and eventually the bank can save money by employing less people as tellers.
As if that was not enough I was also told that I would have to wait much longer to get my hands on the card. I have heard several people complaining that getting a cheque book in some of these banks takes ages but at least it takes a shorter time than the ATM card. So you can guess what many will opt for.
Considering that ATM usage is still relatively new here, it is a shame to find that hardly any bank employs a person to assist new ATM users to get familiar with the technology. Eventually, you will only have few clients, especially the ones who have used the cards before probably outside Rwanda applying for them.
The final and biggest error the banks here have made is the poor location of the ATMs. ATMs are supposed to provide convenience and save one the trouble of having to go to the bank to get money. Instead almost all the banks have the machines next to their branches and no where else! Therefore, there is almost no difference between a trip to the bank and a trip to the machine.
Why should a person like me who lives in Nyacyonga acquire an ATM yet I will still have to travel to Nyabugogo or town in order to use it (next to the bank)? ATMs should be placed in residential areas, trading centres, places like at fuel stations, close to supermarkets in order to save customers the agony of travelling to the bank premises all the time.
Until banks style up, people will continue queuing in the banks like before. With the fibre optic technology now in place, the banks have no excuse but to roll-out a wide network of machines across the country.